Data Brokers are Selling Your Identity

Do you regularly pay with a credit card at the checkout counter? What about use grocery store loyalty cards? Turns out, all that data is being aggregated and used to track you!

You read right. Statistics gathering companies like Acxiom Corp and LexisNexis, which are called Data Brokers, buy up your personal information from credit card companies and retailers and use it to create a profile on you. Then that data is sold to healthcare providers.

On the surface, this might sound amazing! You doctor can use smart predictive methods to stop you from having a heart attack or developing diabetes before it ever happens.

But wait… doesn’t that also mean that the data could be used against you? Suddenly….

  • Your insurance company can charge you more for being a smoker, drinking more than they are comfortable with, or eating too many Little Debbie cakes.
  • The EPA can decide you consume too much fuel and should be put into a higher tax bracket designated for those who emit too much carbon pollution.
  • When switching insurance companies, you could be charged higher premiums for visiting the doctor too often in the past.
  • A potential employer could buy this data and use your pharmacy loyalty card data to determine that you take too many meds and are prone to taking sick time more than they are comfortable.

Hell, I could speculate all day on the way this data could be used against you. I think the ways it could be used against you easily outnumber the ways it is useful by at least 10 to 1.

It makes one seriously consider going to all cash as much as possible. I’ve always been a tin-foil hat wearing kind of guy in this regard anyway, simply from working in IT and knowing the level of detail that can be surmised about a person based on their web surging and computer usage habits.

For example, I could tell that Jane in HR has gall bladder stones, Mike in accounting feels a burning sensation when he urinates and Michelle in finance just recently got engaged just by the crap they search for in Google. Adding in loyalty card and credit card transaction information simply fills in the pieces of the puzzle. Throw in a little cell phone GPS and metadata and suddenly they know more about us than we do ourselves.

We’re suddenly all under a microscope. Maybe it’s time to go off grid a bit. Switch to cash when possible, leave the cell phone at home or in the car when walking about, start using our browsers in private browsing mode and using browser plugins like Disconnect.

Regain a little bit of ourselves and anonymity.

——

Check out the Bloomberg article on the subject proclaiming HOW GREAT THIS ALL IS!!!!

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-26/hospitals-soon-see-donuts-to-cigarette-charges-for-health.html

-Holden

 

The Debt Society

Is it reasonable for a member of the first world, in this day and age to consciously decide they’re never going to retire until they simply can no longer work, then proceed to live a life well beyond their means and completely financed by debt?

Quite a few of my peers do this. Maybe they never actually sat down and did the math or gave much thought to it, but nevertheless, they live life in this manner. And I can only assume that they assume that eventually when they are unable to work anymore, the state will take care of them, or perhaps their children… or who cares! Right now they have a gorgeous home, two shiny cars in the garage and a few big screen TVs on the wall.

Our banker/debtor economy rewards us for this behavior. The entire economy revolves around spending and buying. Economic news reports revolve around consumer spending and retail holidays like Black Friday and Christmas (yes your read right! Christmas is a RETAIL HOLIDAY).

Hell, even our presidents get on TV and makes speeches urging us to get out there and SPEND- SPEND-SPEND! Who here remembers when G.W. Bush sent each of us a nice $300 check for each person in your family, encouraging us to go out and boost Wal-Marts quarterly sales numbers!

costcocrush

Further, saving for a rainy day is no longer rewarded. The Federal Reserve has made it so easy for banks to obtain lending cash, they no longer pay competitive interest rates on savings deposits, which they would have traditionally relied on for lending out to others and collecting profits on the spread between the rate they paid you and the rate they charged the next guy.

Today, money in the bank is money losing value. The average rate of inflation far exceeds the rates of interest paid on savings deposits. So what is a saver to do?

This is a question I find myself struggling with quite often. I am naturally a very risk adverse guy. Credit card bills and debt cause me to lose sleep at night. But more and more I can’t help but notice that it doesn’t seem to really matter, just so long as I give into the idea of actually ever quitting my job and drifting off into old age on a permanent vacation called retirement- or hell, just file for bankruptcy. There’s no debtors prison in the US, so why not?

It’s all a balancing act of course, but these are the tussles I have with myself from time to time. The best I know to do is stay grounded, remind myself I don’t need all these things, the retail gorge and glutton fest doesn’t have to be for me just because society encourages it at every turn.

More and more often, I’m turning off the TV, watching fewer movies, caring less and less about the world around me. Focusing more on me, my family, and my friends. Places like Costco feels more and more like a circus each time I visit, the retail circus full of retail circus clowns working all week and living for the weekend when they can go spend all the fruits of their time and labor spent toiling away during the long, uneventful weeks where all we do is dream of Friday, and when we get to go shopping again….

-Holden

IRS Email Scandal – Does Sonasoft reveal what happened?

Today I was reading Sonasoft’s blog post denying that they have the IRS’s email archives and I noticed a few nuances that I wanted to point out. Their main point that is repeated several times is as follows:

“Sonasoft does NOT have IRS email. Sonasoft NEVER had access to IRS email.”

This is interesting because they stress that Sonasoft does not currently have IRS email (which is true) and that they never had ACCESS to IRS email. They do not say that they “never had” IRS email or that the email wasn’t archived – only that they did not have access. Presumably because the IRS was using a Sonasoft product (SonaVault) and not the Sonasoft arching service.

I believe that this is just another instance of performative language that is “legally accurate”, but purposely deceiving. They never deny that data was deleted or archived on their servers.

The “access” language is interesting to me because I believe Sonasoft is attempting to tell everyone what likely happened.

Sonasoft has safeguards and special algorithms to protect the SonaVault Email Archive from mischievous IT administrators who might be tempted to delete or tamper with the archived email. Any attempt to delete or modify the SonaVault email archive will capture the altered text, date stamp the attempt, and send out various alerts to IT personnel and management that an attempted breach occurred; the original email will not be changed in any way. The only way that email can be deleted from the archive is through SonaVault’s expiration policies. The Administrator can set retention policies to purge the archive of emails that have reached an expiration date, which is often set to be a seven-year period.

Basically, as I read it, Sonasoft is saying that they did not have access (i.e., did not have admin access to change the policy settings), but it is probable that an IRS admin did. Which is what I think happened. Someone inside the IRS was probably told to change the configurations to dump email archives.

Sonasoft also gives us the key to finding out who deleted the files right in the blog post:

There are many options to safeguard expired email, and purging the email requires several steps so that email cannot be ‘accidentally’ deleted. In addition, all purge policies are recorded and become part of the permanent log that cannot be tampered with.

They key to understanding who deleted the IRS emails and by extension who ordered the files to be deleted is in the administrative logs. A savvy lawyer should subpoena the administrative logs, determine which administrator changed the configuration settings to delete the archived emails, and determine who made the decision to do so.

Kids Complicate Things

Turn on your favorite rap artist’s latest album and you’ll probably hear at least a line or two reminiscing about being an angry little boy whose dad ran out on him and his mother. I grew up around a lot of these broken kids. One kid I knew, who was only 14 at the time and already openly gay and sexually active was one of these fatherless victims, his father gone, his mom in her own drug induced world. That kid didn’t have a kitchen floor. Literally, the floor in the kitchen of his double wide trailer had rotted away.

Other kids I knew had dads who beat the shit out of them. I guess getting the shit beat out of you might be better than abandonment though. Perhaps something is better than nothing at all, contemplating the grand mystery of why you weren’t good enough to stick around for, for an entire lifetime.

I look at my own children today and they break my heart with love. They cause me to well up with such emotion that it almost incites rage in my soul when I hear about kids whose fathers have abused or ran away from them.

Last night I went in my girl’s room and laid with each of them as they slept. I rubbed their backs, buried my nose into their little head of hair and just breathed it in… then kissed each on the cheek and snuck off before I woke them up.

While I laid beside my girls, I thought about something I remembered the economist Steve Levitt, from the Freakanomics podcast, say while discussing the loss of his one year old son many years ago. He said that losing a child never gets easier, it never stops hurting, it continues to hurt every single day. You just learn to cope with it and keep living.

I feel Steve’s pain. I couldn’t stand it. It’s the one challenge I imagine not being able to overcome. It is the one thing that would drive me to the brink- losing one of my children.

So then how does a man walk away from one willfully? How does a father ever willfully harm his child?

It really takes a fucking pathetic puddle of puke to do so.

Having children and loving them deeply and oh so selfishly that it shakes you to the core is to feel the essence of life.

Maybe it’s biological, maybe it’s spiritual. I don’t care. I’m just glad I had the opportunity to feel it.

-Holden

Why A One-Size-Fits-All Minimum Wage Doesn’t Work For America

It seems to me that federally enforced on-size-fits-all minimum wage legislation is an ineffective way for policy makers to improve the standard of living for this country’s people.

I completely agree that something needs to be done. There are a thousand different ways we could improve the standard of living for the entire country. Simple and effective ways we could close the income gap between the richest and the poorest among us, but $10.10 an hour isn’t one of them. Frankly, it’s lazy policy making.

$10.10 an hour means different things in different parts of the country:

I think it is difficult for people in different parts of the country to understand what $10.10 an hour means to one another. Someone in New York City probably thinks that $10.10 an hour is slave wages while someone in Jackson, Mississippi (capital of MS) probably considers $10.10 an hour a livable wage. That is because the average cost of living varies wildly from region to region in the United States.

Average Cost of Living

Housing Prices Vary Wildly Across Major Cities: 

We can quickly compare median sales prices for homes across the country (source):

City Median Sale Price
Manhattan, NY $1,175,000
Jackson, MS $184,502
Seattle, WA $435,000
Atlanta, GA $245,000
San Francisco, CA $945,000

Gas Prices Vary Wildly Across Major Cities: 

We can quickly compare gas prices across the country (source)

City Regular Mid Premium Diesel
Manhattan, NY $4.052 $4.216 $4.354 $4.479
Jackson, MS $3.440 $3.642 $3.812 $3.737
Seattle, WA $4.035 $4.152 $4.255 4.109
Atlanta, GA $3.692 $3.871 $4.045 $3.893
San Francisco, CA $4.225 $4.342 $4.440 $4.291

Note: There are similar variances for food and clothing costs.

It is important to realize that these major variances are across major cities. If you compare rural areas to cities the variance is even more dramatic. So why does anyone expect a one-sized-fits-all minimum wage to work across the country?

The Solution: A Livable Wage that Fits

If we want to increase the minimum wage it seems like we need to make an effort to understand what that wage is in each part of country. We should not pick a number that everyone is expected to implement across the board. The country is to diverse for that to be successful.

What may be a fit for Seattle, WA would probably be overly burdensome to businesses in Jackson, MS. What may work in Jackson, MS would probably be insufficient in Manhattan, NY. So why do we treat wages the same when costs across the country are provably and undeniably different? This makes no sense to me.

Instead, it seems like we should empower our communities and local policy makers to actin the best interest of their constituents by providing the people living there with critical data and information to make better decisions for themselves. And if we are going to implement something federally (which I don’t think we should) – shouldn’t we at least make an effort to make it work for everyone?

We are a great country because of our diversity. There is something, somewhere, for everyone. We have always embraced that mantra. I don’t think we should stop now.

The Indoctrination Process

Six children and one women sitting in a circle holding hands. There heads were bowed and the women was mumbling softly. The children paid close attention.  As I jogged by the group one child looked up at me, almost afraid to be caught, with one eye barely squinting open, and immediately returned to the correct posture.

I slowed my jog to a walk so I could see the events unfold in more detail. In the front yard of the old house there was a small television with cartoon characters in the same posture as the women and children. I noticed that the children’s mouths were mumbling at the same cadence and volume as their teacher’s, but I couldn’t make out the words.

It was a vacation bible school camp. One just like the kind I had attended dozens of times as a child too.

In retrospect I remember all of the things I was taught as a child. How I was taught to think and not think. Not to question, to have faith without evidence, and to obey authority. The cost of disobedience was worse than death. Hell. My parents, grandparents, and the rest of my family enforced these ideas too. I believed it all without question.

When I think of it now this seems so unfair. It is such an obvious process of indoctrination that I can barely believe that such an institution, in its present form, exists at all. The use of authority, media, entertainment, and group-think to ingrain a since of loyalty  and respect to an organization and its belief system.

When you think about it, it’s not too different than how any society works. Even here in the land of the free.

“The use of authority, media, entertainment, and group-think to ingrain a since of loyalty  and respect to an organization and its belief system.”

Patriotism enforced by a since of community , unlimited hours of (un)reality TV available for consumption, a media network that pumps ideas into the psyche of the public, and a since that we owe it all to those in charge. We hold our leaders up like infallible idols – as long as they belong to the correct political party. A false since of choice.

This form of indoctrination works. It has been and continues to be used. We just can’t recognize it because we are part of the process. But once you recognize that such a thing exists it’s a lot easier to be yourself. Not what they told you to be.

Proof that our Health and Medical Insurance System is FUCKED!

Today I got a bill in mail for when my wife went to the doctor recently due to having the flu. She didn’t go to the Emergency Room mind you, she went to her primary care physician.

The final cost to me out of pocket was only $25. Not bad if you forget that I pay about $400 every month in insurance premiums then my employer picks up another $800 for a total of approx. $1200 a month to insure my family.

But check out the wonderful itemized bill! It’s for almost $400!!!!!

Look closer and you notice the doctors and insurance companies have some nice deals with each other. The doctor discounted the insurer $177 + $82. Yup- $259 (65% of the bill) was “Wrote Off”.

2014-06-19 20_35_17-Picasa 3

I wonder if I were uninsured and I went in for this visit, would they have wrote off 65% of the medical bill for me, or stuck my poor soul with the whole $400?!

Someone give me a spoon so I can gouge my eyes out! This is maddening!

-Holden

Consulting is not for the faint of heart

Sometimes I feel like consulting might be one of the hardest jobs on Earth.

For all of you who aren’t a consultant or never have been, answer the following questions for me:

  1. Do you regularly find yourself being sold as an “expert” on technologies or subject matter you might not have never even heard of?

This actually happens a lot in consulting. Bonus hungry managers and business developers sell off their consultants as experts in subject matter they may have never heard of, then when you show up at the client who is probably paying something to the tune of $100 an hour for your time, they are rightfully upset when they discover you aren’t the expert they were promised.

You turn to your own management and team to have the same business developers and managers tell you over and over, “Yes you are an expert”, you reply “no I’m not”, they return, “Oh yes you are!” and again you repeat, “Oh no I am not!”

  1. You’re expected to show up anywhere, sometimes many time zones or a multi-hour drive away from your home and put in the time until the job is finished. Your manager kindly buys you dinner, which is basically just a nice way of pointing out that you aren’t allowed to leave your little cube or conference room to go get your own dinner.

I experience 10 to 14 hour days on a semi-regular basis, not including commute times.

  1. You regularly have to watch clients pitch fits like children including pounding fists on desks, stomping around, saying one thing in private then back stabbing you in meetings and being terrible human beings altogether.

There tends to be at least one diva on every project.

So if consulting sucks so bad, why do you do it?

That leads me to why I’m writing this post. Why do I work in this field? I think because for those who are of strong character, it has the potential to transform you into a business powerhouse.

Over the past two years I’ve worked in this field I have:

  1. Mastered interpersonal communications and learned to deal with difficult people with precision, calm and tactfulness. Well, not quite mastered, but definitely came full circle.
  2. Became an IT wiz. Eventually you catch up and develop the skills you were sold as having, else you perish and limp off with your tail between your legs.
  3. Learned to say no! I used to have the hardest time saying no. I couldn’t even pass the damn Direct TV sales guys in Costco without politely giving them my attention for five solid minutes, only to sheepishly decline their offer. Now I walk in with my head held high and confidently assert “Hey guys! Thank you very much but I don’t need your FUCKING DIRECT TV!”
  4. Learned to enjoy a good fight and stay calm under fire. Dealing with unreasonable deadlines, clients who seem to never be happy and demanding managers forces you to really hone your Fight or Flight instincts and learn to assess stressful situations with a sound mind.

So that’s why I work in Consulting

Industry jobs aren’t for me. Doing the same routine day in and out isn’t for me. The things I hate most about consulting are coincidentally the things I love most about it. Being forced to learn new things all the time, being forced to travel, dealing with assholes and besting them in the long run.

Sometimes when you’re having a really bad day, it’s good to reflect or write down why it is you do whatever it is that is causing you so much grief.

In some cases, maybe this makes you realize you need to stop whatever it is you’re doing, while in others it reasserts why it is you get up every morning and keep fighting the good fight.

For now, I’ll keep fighting, if out of sheer stubbornness more so than anything else.

-Holden

Head of the Family

Having a kid has forced me to examine a lot of things in my life. I have to think about what I say, how I say it, and the inadvertent message I am sending to my daughter any time I act. It is an constant exercise of restraint, self control, and leadership. It is something I never gave much thought until she was already here.

Starting my own family has also forced me to reflect on my own childhood. The traditions we had, the good times, and the bad. And after a lot of self reflection I’ve come to realize that I am the launching pad for my family. I am the transitional figure who will likely set a new precedence for future generations to follow.

I don’t mean that in an egotistical kind of way, it’s just that I believe I am the first person in my family to recognize and accept this responsibility. My father suffers from addiction, my mother from depression, both from lack of education. Going generations back there is no figure that holds the family together. There are few traditions and no one I would call the “head of the family”.

I want my wife and daughter to have these things. I even want my parents and in-laws to experience these type of things. I picture the entire family sitting around a big dining room table on special occasions. Love, security, and tradition. There was a shortage of those things in my life and I want my family to have it.

So when I’m angry I take pause. When someone upsets me I stop and think. Instead of reacting I reflect on the big picture. Sure, I could probably say something to hurt this person’s feelings, but instead I’ll take it for the team. I’ll be the glue that holds this family together. I’ll swallow the insults, the ignorance, and instead be a leader. I’ll do all these things because I can and there’s no one else to do it. My reward is the result.

Red Pill/Blue Pill

Recently, I decided to be son of the year and take my mom on a father/mother trip to Washington DC. I’d been working in the area for a while and decided to fly her up and have her stay with me in one of Washington DC’s fanciest hotels just a few blocks from the National Mall. It was a real treat for both of us.

I don’t have a history of getting along well with my mother, but I figured this time would be different. This time we’d bond and have a great time.

It didn’t go so well. I don’t need to elaborate or go into detail, but it really… really didn’t go so well.

I made a lot of personal discovery over the painful weekend though. It made me realize how much our experiences shape us. It made me appreciate the value of education, the college experience, travel and working in a diverse workplace. I made me realize just how boxed in many people become over time.

I don’t mean to fault the person who didn’t take the opportunity or possibly ever have the means or ability to experience these things, but instead want to stress that you should make it a priority in your life to seek these things out at all costs.

These things- education, the college experience, travel, and working in a diverse workplace are game changers. They are paradigm shifters. They are the difference between taking the Red Pill and the Blue Pill so to speak (as seen in the Matrix).

redblue_pill

Sadly, I get the impression that my mom sees me as uppity, snobbish or hoity-toity. And when I place myself in her shoes, and step back in time a bit and consider how I myself saw the world when I was a teenager, I guess I am just that according to my former self.

Today I’d defend myself against these accusations. I’d argue that I value quality and substance, I’d argue that there is true value to many of the finer things in life like the fine arts, expert craftsmanship, or even an admittedly overpriced craft beer.

Of course, all these perceptions and attitudes are things that have developed over time as I’ve met many different people from various walks of life, read endless books, sat in countless classroom lectures and seen multiple wondrous sights from different corners of the world.

My point is- enrich yourself at all costs. Don’t allow yourself to be boxed in, even if you think you are happy with this. Don’t accept the blue pill (the blissful ignorance of illusion). This path and formula isn’t the same for everyone, the elements of education, college, travel and a diverse workspace are simply my formula.

Find your own formula. Don’t take the blue pill. Open your eyes and step outside the little box of a mundane, two dimensional life.

-Holden